The Converse County Commissioners faced a largely hostile crowd last week at a public hearing, and a subsequent vote, on the county’s new commercial wind tower regulations.
The hearing came as a controversial 62-tower wind generator project, proposed by Wasatch Wind for the foothills just south of Glenrock in the Boxelder Park/Mormon Canyon area, makes its way through local and state governments. Wasatch hopes to have its application before the Wyoming Industrial Siting Council by the end of the year. While all the wind towers would be on private land, many residents and property owners in the mountain valley area are opposed to it.
The County Commission limited comments to the regulations, and at the outset the crowd was told by Commission Chairman Ed Werner the board was not there to hear opinions for or against the wind project itself. A public hearing on the wind regulations held two weeks earlier, on Election Day morning, had been a contentious affair.
Most of those who spoke, however, did not strictly follow the Chairman’s guidelines, despite his ongoing admonitions.
“You’re not representing the majority,” said one resident opposed to the towers. “You’ve got tunnel vision.”
“Are we willing to sell the most precious commodity we have for something that’s not even proven?” asked another, who noted the areas near pristine condition while saying wind generation is projected to add little to the nation’s energy needs.
Attorney Peter Nicolaysen of Casper, who said he owns property in the area, asked if the commissioners had received written opinions from the Converse County attorney on the issues raised at the last public hearing, noting particularly his request that no wind towers be allowed in the mountains above 5,500 feet.
Werner said that was confidential information between client and counsel, though the county attorney later said, “No.”
Nicolaysen then reiterated his request, along with another, that called for a 90-day moratorium on the wind regulations, to give the commissioner time to thoroughly review all the comments made at the public hearings.
Several also questioned why the regulations did not establish siting restrictions for rural areas. They were told that would be a planning and zoning issue, but Converse County is one of the few in Wyoming that has no zoning laws for its rural areas.
“We are limited to what the state allows us to regulate in the Wind Siting regulations,” Werner claimed.
Another resident said the reclamation guidelines in the regulations under consideration “had no teeth”, claiming the bonding and financial requirements were inadequate for removing the towers when they become obsolete. “The state and county should have learned (from experience) with the oil and gas industry.”
Immediately following the public hearing, the Commissioners held a special session, and adopted the wind regulations, which are essentially the same as those of the state. One change the commissioners made, however, expands the minimum distance a tower could be from a residence from five times the towers height, to ten times (i.e. for a 400 foot tower, including the blade sweep, that would be about ¾ of a mile). A property owner could agree to waive the restriction.
“It went well,” said Commissioner Jim Willox after the vote, “”We’re happy to have the rules.”
Commissioner Mike Colling, while noting it was a tough situation, said, “I still believe in property rights, and unless it’s illegal or a health hazard, it’s your right…. We tried to make regulations good enough so it doesn’t happen like what happened in Casper (placing a wind project adjacent to a subdivision).”
Still, after the meeting, when asked how she felt about the wind towers in the valley, local property owner Elsie Deininger said, “It better not be a done deal.”